Zimbabwe journalists arrested over elephant poisoning story

A herd of elephants walks past a watering pan in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe - 2012 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Watering holes are sometimes poisoned by poachers

Three journalists from a state-owned paper in Zimbabwe have been arrested and will be charged with publishing falsehoods over a report about the poisoning of elephants, the police say.

A Sunday Mail article alleged that a syndicate, including a top police officer, was behind the recent use of cyanide to kill elephants for tusks.

The story was untrue and tarnished the force's image, the police said.

Some culprits involved had already been arrested, the spokesperson said.

The article undermined the police's investigation into poaching, police spokeswoman Charity Charamba told journalists in the capital, Harare.

Meanwhile, two travellers from Zimbabwe have been arrested at Hong Kong International Airport with 36kg (80lb) of suspected ivory, worth an estimated $46,500 (£30,000), in their hand luggage, the South China Morning Post reports.

Some of the items were found in a tailor-made vest, the paper quoted Hong Kong's Customs and Excise Department as saying.

The Sunday Mail's editor Mabasa Sasa, investigations editor Brian Chitemba and reporter Tinashe Farawo were detained on Monday night.

They had "dented and tarnished the image of the organisation for no apparent reason", Ms Charamba said.

Image caption Charity Charamba called a press conference to announce the arrest of the journalists

"The editor and reporters of the Sunday Mail cannot be allowed to hide behind the privilege of journalism to peddle these falsehoods," she said.

Journalists in future should work with the security forces to identify suspected poachers, she added.

The BBC's Brian Hungwe in the Harare says more than 60 elephants were killed with cyanide in or near Hwange National Park in south-western Zimbabwe last month.

Some of the carcasses were found without tusks and a sophisticated poaching syndicate involving locals and foreigners is believed to be behind the poisonings, he says.

The journalists are expected to be formally charged in court on Wednesday.

Loughty Dube, the director of the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ), said the arrests were "barbaric and unconstitutional".

"The police should simply have asked for a retraction, issued a statement with the correct position or registered their complaint through VMCZ," he told the AFP news agency.

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